Happy Independence Day, or the Fourth of July. Today, we celebrate the 238 years since the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the 13 colonies, which became the United States of America.
The American experiment of democracy is alive and well despite recent notions of its struggle. Not only has the road since our Founding Fathers penned their signatures to that document been long and involved, so too was the road to get there.
We sometimes forget the origins of our democracy and how incredible it was to establish a new nation on that ideal.
Its root, of course, it the Magna Carta, which in 1215 was the first document to wrest power away from the king of England. It established English Common Law, which essentially stated that no free man could be punished except for through the law of the land established by the Magna Carta. It removed the arbitrary nature of the king’s previous rule. Sometimes unevenly applied, it was by no means a perfect document.
That concept was further explored through the age of enlightenment in the late 17th century, which placed further emphasis on science over tradition. This movement spawned new ideas that spread over Europe.
Around the same time, Thomas Hobbes, through his book Leviathan, helped to establish the social contract theory which outlined the legitimacy of the state over the individual. Though it has been touted as the mechanism of establishing a strong central state to avoid the toils of war, it also outlines that the state of nature without government would be unlivable thus creating the need for a social contract of a shared government. Through this social contract, we all give up some rights for a shared protection. Though he was sometimes discounted as one who believed in the absolute power of a monarchy, he set the stage for the consideration of a government’s role in the lives of its people.
Likewise, John Locke helped establish liberalism, a political philosophy rooted in the ideas of liberty and equality, that was itself rooted in classical republicanism, or “the public thing.” Through liberalism, Locke helped establish the idea of rejecting the divine rights of kings which led to revolutions such as the American Revolution, which is what in essence we celebrate today.
Its most famous line is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
There are other lines throughout history with equal weight, but this one holds both promise and practicality. It acts as a mission statement for the collection of our ideals regardless of our follies when we put those ideals into practice.
We celebrate the day with fireworks, song, parades and other pomp. And yes, for some it only means flying the flag and wearing certain clothing. And yes, it is for some a hollow celebration of nationalism for a nation itself plagued with troubles. But this declaration that we remember today and to which we pay tribute is a culmination of philosophy and ideals that were rooted in humanity’s desire for individuality, freedom and liberty. It took us hundreds of years for the philosophy to gain enough traction for our Founding Fathers to put pen to paper and break free from the monarchy that ruled us. And in the 238 years since, we have fought and struggled and believed and evolved. The American experiment is a great one, and it too is constantly evolving. So today, we celebrate this declaration of those who believed it would be better to be tried for treason if they failed than remain under a monarch’s rule. Today, we celebrate our independence and the events and ideas that led to it and the people who brought us here.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.